Anything for André!

Curator Kevin Jones recently traveled to San Francisco to install loaned FIDM Museum objects in the de Young Museum's upcoming Oscar de la Renta retrospective! Read on to hear how our objects are installed at other institutions, and what it was liking working with fashion legend and former Vogue Editor at Large André Leon Tally.


It is always a pleasure to loan objects from the FIDM Museum to sister institutions and to work with fellow museum professionals. Not only do we reach new audiences viewing our objects, but the objects have contextualized reasons to be brought out of dark storage and exhibited in all their glory. We often get to travel to fun locals for installation…hence my reason for being in San Francisco last week. The FIDM Museum is loaning three ensembles to the upcoming Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective exhibition (March 12–May 30, 2016) at the de Young Museum. Co-curated by fashion-legend André Leon Tally, Jennifer Park, and Molly Sorkin, this will be a huge (130 mannequins) blockbuster not to miss, especially if you love the high glamour of high society!

The following photos are a run-through of installing the FIDM Museum ensembles:

Picture 1

Our crate arrives! de Young art handlers transport and unscrew the crate in one of the very full galleries where the exhibition is being staged. The crate arrived the week before and was allowed to acclimatize before being opened. This helps the garments to adjust to atmospheric differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco. At left (out of view) was my worktable where I unpacked the archival boxes one-by-one as I dressed each ensemble.

Picture 2

Too beautiful to disturb! It always breaks my heart a little to unpack for installation as our Collections Manager, Carolyn Jamerson, creates perfect environments to house our objects. Nothing shifted in transport. What you are seeing here is a fully-secured bodice and belt on their transport base, which can be moved easily and safely anywhere in the gallery. Underneath this layer is the skirt of the garments on its board that can also be removed from the storage box and transported separately. This system allows us to pack objects securely without having to rely on mounds of tissue paper.

Picture 3

To keep a consistent look throughout the exhibition, the curators decided to use very tall Schlappi-brand mannequins. These forms are extreme and lend an elegant air to the display, but not all women are 6 foot, 4 inch tall supermodels—nor quite as thin! So I spent part of my installation time building a padded body using archival batting stitched into place on a base of Nylon stockings covering the mannequin torso. Here we see my work in progress—I still had to build-up the bust-line and attached the petticoats. This mannequin was for the burgundy satin and velvet gown you will see below.

Picture 5Evening Gown by Oscar de la Renta
Spring/Summer 1974
FIDM Museum, 97.291.18

Three slinky evening gowns that were part of the infamous 1973 “Battle of Versailles” fashion show open the exhibition in the first gallery. While researching for the exhibition, the curators identified that one of our models was from that collection—in blue silk charmeuse. We had it incorrectly dated to c. 1980. This is one of the perks of collaborating with other institutions; often new information is discovered that might not have been found because we were not looking for it. The peach gown is from the Cincinnati Art Museum and the third gown (not shown) in lime green is from the Museum at FIT.

Picture 6

Evening Gown by Oscar de la Renta
Fall/Winter 1992-1993    
FIDM Museum, 2003.794.22

This is the burgundy silk satin and velvet ball gown for which I built the batting body photographed above. She came out quite splendidly! The leitmotif of the third gallery is “Spain” and many of the mannequins, including ours, are posed as if flamenco dancing. Because the proper right arm extends out dramatically, I had to make sure the underarm seam was not too stressed. She is standing in front of a multiple-plane scrim printed with John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo (1882) that reinforces the theme of the dramatic vignette. I think the mannequin will ultimately hold a fan in the final presentation, but I had no time to oversee this detail as my airport taxi was waiting…Olé!

Picture 7

Hostess Pajamas by Oscar de la Renta
c. 1982  
FIDM Museum, 97.291.17AB

The fourth gallery is split into two themes: Russia and Asia. Our third outfit is in the “Asia” section. Seen above on the right, the paisley embroidered silk hostess pajamas had just been placed and screwed into the platform when I took the photo. I wish I had waited because she was not quite finished…Accessories. Almost all of the mannequins are styled with really amazing earrings, necklaces, and brooches. Our mannequin acquired these bobbles, but also a bejeweled Fez. “Deluxe” is obviously a sub-theme that runs throughout this exhibition!  

Picture 8

Left: Kate Irvin, Curator, RISD Museum. Middle Back: Kevin Jones, Curator, FIDM Museum. Right: Cara Varnell, Conservator. Front: ???

Picture 9

It’s André Leon Tally!!

Not often do I get to hangout with a fashion legend. André is a bold presence. I knew the moment he entered the museum galleries as his energy filled the spaces. And he is not shy about voicing an opinion about how a mannequin should be dressed, place, or accessorized. André is all business; when it’s time to work, “Let’s get to work!” He is also very generous. On my last day installing, he took all the couriers out to lunch and gave each of us personalized signed copies of the exhibition catalogue. That’s why we’ll do anything for André!

Picture 11

My San Francisco fashion adventure was a whirlwind. Tiring and exhilarating at the same time. This installation, though, was more personal than others I have done as it brought me back into the presence of Oscar de la Renta. I interviewed him in 2009 for our High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture exhibition and documentary. He generously changed his flight plans to Europe to be available on the only day that I could meet with him. Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective is a fantastic tribute to a creative man. If you can’t get to the exhibition, I highly recommend acquiring the beautiful catalogue for your library.

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